Phil Vettel, a graduate of Eastern Illinois University, joined Tribune Company (at Suburban Trib) in 1979, and has been The Tribune’’s restaurant critic since 1989. He has a wife and two sons, one or more of whom often accompany Phil on his culinary adventures. He also makes a mean egg-salad sandwich.

Recent Articles
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    Phil Vettel reviews Claudia’s

    It takes a little effort to dine at Claudia, which has been entertaining diners, a scant handful at a time, for close to two years. Chef/owner Trevor Teich hosts fixed-price, multi-course dinners just two Sundays each month (in the early days, it was fewer than that); each Sunday features two seatings, each serving no more than 16 guests. Sixty-four covers a month spells doom for most restaurants; at Claudia, that’s a sellout. Teich may be a name with which you’re […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews El Che Bar

    CHICAGO, Ill. — John Manion has been sharing his love of South American cuisine since the last century, from Mas, the nuevo Latino he opened in 1999 (following up with Otro Mas a couple of years later), to La Sirena Clandestina, the Brazilian-ish Fulton Market restaurant that debuted nearly four years ago. And now there is El Che Bar, Manion’s salute to outdoor cooking, especially the churrascos and parrilladas of his Brazilian childhood, but with a more Argentine focus. “This […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Giant

    CHICAGO, Ill. — Sortallini. That dish tells you just about all you need to know about 2-month-old Giant and Jason Vincent, iconoclastic chef and partner. It’s a delicious, cheese-filled tortellini, fleshed out with guanciale, pine nuts and a light sauce with basil and tomatoes. But rather than the familiar circular shape, the pasta packets are formed from rectangles. (Vincent couldn’t stand the waste from circular cuts, he said.) So, strictly speaking, it’s not tortellini. But it’s “sort of” tortellini, and thus […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Honey’s

    CHICAGO, Ill. — I’m really going to miss Honey’s. Not that I expect anything but a long, successful life for the Market District newcomer, which opened in early June. It’s not them. It’s me. One of the very few disadvantages of being a restaurant critic is the inability to be anyone’s regular customer. After I visit a place a few times and write my review, it’s time to move on. So many new restaurants, so little time. (Feel sorry for […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Cantina 1910

    CHICAGO, Ill. — Less than a year old, Cantina 1910 has endured enough controversy for a 10-year veteran. The Andersonville restaurant opened in September and quickly attracted a swarm of negative attention from online citizens, who demonized the place for charging for chips and salsa (the housemade salsas more than justify the tariff) and recoiling at some of the less-familiar dishes. It must be fun to be called “inauthentic” by people ill-equipped to do so. It got so crazy a backlash, […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Alinea

    CHICAGO, Ill. — ‘Do any of us,” muses chef Grant Achatz, “want to have a five-hour meal anymore?” Coming from any other chef in Chicago, that remark might sound wise, or possibly envious. But from Achatz, who set the culinary world ablaze with his 30-course, assumptions-shattering menus at Alinea, it smacks of self-blasphemy. For more than 10 years, Alinea’s scarcity of available bookings proved that, yes, hundreds of dining enthusiasts wanted a five-hour meal, at least from Achatz. It is […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Ocean Cut

    CHICAGO, Ill. — When David Flom and Matt Moore opened C Chicago last year, they envisioned a fin-and-scales version of their exemplary steakhouse, Chicago Cut. C Chicago featured painstakingly sourced protein in the form of whole fish, priced by the pound; customers proved resistant to the notion of 2-pound fish at $45 per. In May, the owners changed the name to Ocean Cut (neatly referencing its sister property), brought aboard the well-traveled chef Dirk Flanigan (who put The Gage and […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Oriole

    CHICAGO — It usually takes time for a restaurant to reach the four-star level, and usually it should. A four-star designation denotes not only superlative food and service, but the confidence (mine) that this excellence is sustainable. That sense of permanence isn’t often apparent in a new restaurant, so I tend to take a cautious approach before hanging four stars on a chef. I’ve overcome my hesitation, awarding out-of-the-gate four-star ratings, to exactly five restaurants: Trio, when it opened with […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Leña Brava

    CHICAGO, Ill. — E Every time I visit a Rick Bayless restaurant, I learn something. That’s no idle statement when you’re talking about a guy who has been feeding Chicago for more than a quarter-century. First there was Frontera Grill, eschewing chips-and-salsa Mexican for serious Mexican cooking that took sopa Azteca and chile relleno to new heights. Then Topolobampo, demonstrating that fine-dining, regional Mexican cuisine was not only possible, but that there was also an eager market for that sort […]

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    Phil Vettel reviews Saved by the Max

    CHICAGO, Ill. — Fans of the classic teen sitcom Saved by the Bell are flocking to Wicker Park to snag a table at a themed pop up restaurant called Saved by the Max. It’s dripping with 90’s nostalgia, and packed to the gills every night—but how’s the food? The team brought on a highly regarded Chicago chef to take over the menu, and put some new twists on familiar classics. Chicago Tribune Restaurant Critic Phil Vettel checked it out.